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Terpene Deficiency / Paleo Air

Terpene Deficiency: The Aromatic Lifestyle


Our ancestors lived a tumultuous and difficult, but pleasantly aromatic lifestyle. These ancestors lived through the land, using it for the basic necessities for survival. They also had the opportunity to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy its benefits. As evolution suggests, human bodies adapted to the amount of beneficial natural aromatic compounds that plants emitted. Over time and through industrialization, pollution has dirtied the air, leaving less opportunity for our respiratory systems to come in contact with those natural aromatic compounds and us in a terpene deficiency.

While it is unclear as to when exactly aromatherapy started, using these natural compounds from plants has been a common practice for centuries. It is thought that Egyptians derived essential oils from plants to help with the embalming of corpses and throughout the mummification process.1 It is also thought that Egyptians found the antibacterial properties of essential oils beneficial. Across the world, essential oils were being used for many different reasons. Essential oils were used in Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine as mood enhancers and to treat leprosy.

As we continue looking across the globe, essential oils were used by Greeks, specifically by the “father of medicine” Hippocrates. Further advancements in the use of essential oils started to occur. An alchemist, named Avicenna, created the distillation process of essential oils which is still commonly used today. As time continued, Romans used them during the Dark Ages to cover body odor and for holistic healing.

While aromatherapy has been used for centuries, the term, aromatherapy, was coined in 1937 by a French chemist named Rene-Mauric Gattefosse after using lavender oil to help with a burn. Further, Marguerite Maury was the first to blend essential oils with one another for synergistic effects.  Those who live in large, polluted cities, are not as exposed to the natural aromatic compounds, or secondary metabolites, needed in our respiratory system.2 Secondary metabolites are compounds emitted that are used as a way of communication by the plants and trees that produce them.

One type of these secondary metabolites is terpenes. Common terpenes include limonene, geraniol, eucalyptol, pinene, and citronellol.3 Terpenes can have an impact on stress and mood, making them necessary for overall balance and wellbeing. Not having enough exposure to these terpenes can result in Terpene Deficiency (TD). 

Terpene deficiency (TD), recognized and defined by the founder and CEO of MONQ, Eric Fishman, M.D., is a general state of unwellness due to a lack of terpene exposure in one’s respiratory diet. Symptoms of TDS include skin irritation, sinus and head congestion, respiratory discomfort, general fatigue, stress, irritability, and sadness.4 As evolution suggests, humans over many generations became accustomed to living on the land and breathing in large amounts of beneficial terpenes. With the recent increase in industrialization over the past few decades, humans living in these cities are limited in their exposure to terpenes. This change in environment can disrupt homeostasis and overall wellbeing.5

In North America, 82% of the population live in urban settings.6 In the overall world population, 55% live in urban settings. More people are drawn to the appeal and work found in these bigger cities. New York City, New York ranks number one in population with 8.6 million residents.7 Los Angeles, California is home to a little over 4 million people, and Chicago, Illinois with 2.6 million residents. These three cities also rank in the top 20 cities in the world with the highest levels of workplace burnout and stress.8 The amount of stress, plus lack of terpenes in these environments can disrupt homeostasis in the body. Homeostasis is when the body does what it needs to regulate itself.9 The kidneys, brain, and liver are in charge of regulating. The brain tells the body to produce certain hormones through the endocrine system, thus directing the body back to ease.

Breathing in a sufficient amount of terpenes can have a positive effect on the body’s systems that help maintain homeostasis and can eliminate terpene deficiency. Living in this new type of environment not only has the potential to disrupt homeostasis but also can increase the risk for mental health issues and reduce immune system function. This is not only due to more day-to-day stress, but also the air quality. Our bodies are not meant to constantly be in a state of stress. When the body feels it is in danger, it releases cortisol to prepare itself for a fight, flight, or flee response. Once there is no more danger detected, the body regulates itself. If the body is constantly in this heightened state, negative effects to one’s overall health can occur, such as a decrease in immune system functioning. If one’s immune system is not functioning at an optimal level, it has a more difficult time fighting off infections and diseases.

Terpenes are rich in antioxidants, which can aid in immune system functioning.10


Terpene deficiency is not widely recognized, therefore there is not an official treatment.18 There are several remedies though, that are thought to help increase exposure to terpenes.   A popular practice in Japan, Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is a way to reconnect with nature and provides multiple health and wellness benefits. Forest bathing is shown to reduce stress, maintain healthy blood pressure, maintain heart health, prevent disease, relieve discomfort, increase energy, and reduce fatigue. This practice is even prescribed by doctors in Japan!19 Forest bathing has become popular worldwide as people are noticing the benefits after spending time out in nature. When practicing forest bathing, it is suggested to walk out into a forest, consciously deepen your breathing, and allow the stress to release from your mind and body.

As stated earlier, our bodies are not meant to remain in a constant state of stress. Forest bathing and terpene exposure can help. Studies have shown that exposure to terpenes, such as alpha-pinene and limonene, improves blood pressure and increases relaxation.20, 21 Terpenes have also been found to act as an anti-inflammatory, aiding in the body’s fight against diseases.22 To maximize the benefits of forest bathing, it is suggested to utilize all your senses. To start off, start with noticing what you see as you enter a forest. Notice the colors of the trees, the texture of the ground beneath your feet, the movement of the insects, and the way the sun shines throughout the trees. Next pay attention to the sounds around you. Many sound machines have a nature setting on them for a reason. Notice the sound of the wind through the trees or the crunching of leaves under your shoe. Most importantly is using your sense of smell. Smell is the most important as it is tied to the limbic system, which handles emotions.23

As mentioned earlier, the best way to experience the benefits of terpenes is by breathing deeply. Different plants will give off different aromas that you may find calming or may provoke delightful memories. While forest bathing, don’t forget about touch or taste. Try feeling the texture of pine needles around you or the softness of moss growing on a tree. As for taste, bring along your favorite herbal tea to enjoy while out on your walk. By engaging all five of your senses, you can experience the benefits of forest bathing.  Another way to bring the forest and its rich terpenes closer to home is by planning out your garden and landscape accordingly. Adding in trees such as evergreens, Leyland cypress, and white pine not only make for a great natural privacy fence, they also improve air quality. Fruit and flowering trees are also a great addition for their sweet aroma and the beneficial terpenes they release.24


Did you know there are over 20,000 known terpenes?11 While this number may seem overwhelming, let’s look into a few commonly known and used terpenes to aid in the elimination of terpene deficiency.


Limonene is a commonly known terpene, found in the peels of citrus fruits.12 This terpene can be utilized as an antibacterial agent, mood enhancer, anti-inflammatory, and immune booster. This terpene has also been shown to help with acid reflux and GERD. Most citrus essential oils contain high levels of limonene and are used aromatically, or topically when diluted. 


Over 200 different species of plants contain the terpene, linalool. It can be derived from plants and made synthetically.13 Natural sources of linalool include clary sage, bergamot, rosewood, patchouli, lavender and sweet basil. It has a potent aroma that contributes to the scent and benefits of lavender. Linalool, when used in aromatherapy, improves sleep by relaxing the user. It is also used to reduce congestion, inflammation, skin infections, and fight off bacteria! Many cosmetics use it for its delightful aroma. 


Geraniol is a terpene mainly derived from lemongrass and geraniums.14 The scent is recognizable due its rose-like aroma. Geraniol is primarily used in citronella oil, rose oil, and palmarosa oil. It is a common insect repellent, and also has uses as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antibacterial. The rosy aroma is popular due to its trend to enhance mood and lessen fatigue. When mixed with a carrier oil, it can be used topically to soothe muscle tension. 


Eucalyptol is found not only derived from eucalyptus. It is also found in plants such as tea tree, cardamom, rosemary, sage, and bay leaves.15 This terpene is commonly used as an anti-inflammatory in massaging balms for its cooling effect on aching joints and muscles. In aromatherapy, eucalyptol is used to balance sleep patterns, help improve mental clarity, ward off mosquitoes, sanitize the air, remedy sore throat and cough, promote dental health, and aids in healing wounds. 


Pinene is the primary terpene in pine trees. This terpene’s other natural sources include frankincense, rosemary, fir, juniper, cypress, and peppermint.16  It is also considered an anti-inflammatory, which is a common theme among terpenes. Pinene is used not only in the world of medicine, but also in everyday products such as soaps, shampoos, lotions, deodorants, and cleaning agents. In aromatherapy, it is frequently used as an antimicrobial, bronchodilator, analgesic, and antioxidant. 


When you hear the word citronellol, you may automatically think of citronella candles that you sit out to repel mosquitoes when you are sitting outside in the summer. This terpene is found in many essential oils, aiding not only in mosquito repellent but also has multiple health benefits. Due to its flowery scent, it is often used in perfumes, candles, or even as a food flavoring.17 Citronellol is a great addition to hair care products as it helps dandruff and promotes hair growth. It is also used to promote good bacteria in the stomach, improve the appearance of skin, and boost immune system function.


Terpenes have been an important part of our respiratory diet for thousands of years. As humans and their environments have evolved, access to the terpenes needed is harder to come by. Not having enough terpenes can result in Terpene Deficiency (TD) and leave someone feeling generally unwell. It is important to find ways to incorporate these terpenes back into your system byways of forest bathing, buying plants, or using aromatherapy.

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